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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

70

A Bold Notion for Baby Showers

A few weeks ago, a coworker sent out a mass email suggesting that we throw our pregnant customer service manager a baby shower. With a slight foreboding, I glanced up at the other recipients of the message.

Women. Just the women.

My heart sank, and another soft wave of defeat rolled over me, the same kind of gut-nudging wave that pulses from statements like,

“Let’s do guys versus girls!” when heard for the 887th time;

“I’m taking his last name because I hate my last name,” stated as though it’s a fresh and free-willed motive, totally uninfluenced by orthodox, for effacing a piece of one’s identity;

“Boys are just easier than girls,” coming authoritatively from a mother of boys, or any mother for that matter.

My initial response was to treat the email like an unspoken-for pair of grundies, holding it at arm’s length between thumb and forefinger until someone else dealt with it. Then, halfway through a Liz Lemon-caliber eye roll, I realized that the best thing I could do in this situation was respond first.

So I replied to all with a quick message: a baby shower is a great idea, but let’s do it at the office so everyone can be involved.

Others agreed. Then another person suggested that we invite the father. Virtual nods of assent all around. All right, I thought, a little hope restored. OK.

I am not anti baby shower, you understand. If there were a human being relaxing inside of me day in and day out, rolling over, kicking, and—if it’s like prenatal me—top rocking, I would gladly accept your plush lambs, baby animal onesies, and ham-wrapped pickles. But I would expect you to invite my partner if I have one, and I would expect him to sit beside me through it all, just as excited as I am about this celebration in honor of us and our unborn child. I expect these things for a very plain and uncomplicated reason, and that is it’s his goddamn kid, too.

Of course, this isn’t groundbreaking by any stretch. For a while now, plenty of dads have been changing diapers, spooning carrot puree, and fishing poo from the bathwater like equal partners. These men understand that it’s their kid, too.

So why isn’t it their baby shower, too? 

Some may argue that the bond between a mother and her baby is unlike any other, and so to be surrounded by the support of other mothers is an invaluable part of preparing for a baby. But when men are excluded from the exchanges that occur within these networks of support and anticipation, it sends the message that their role as a father is less noteworthy, less deserving of recognition. It sets the stage for a tacit understanding in which the baby and any baby-related items and ass-aches are ultimately the woman’s domain.

On the afternoon of my coworker’s baby shower, we crowded around our snack-laden conference table, white Chinese lanterns bobbing overhead. As we settled in, we all wrote our own wishes and pieces of advice for the parents-to-be. When our messages were read aloud, I couldn’t help but note that the ones from the men (none of whom had children of their own) were some of the most sincere and thoughtful of the group.

The men at this baby shower were happy to be there, and it was clear that they possessed the emotional capacity to be engaged in the anticipation surrounding the event, as any adult human with a modicum of sentimentality would. Unfortunately, they were in the company of a few women who were hyperaware of their male presence.

These women found it worthwhile to point out, several times, that this was the guys’ first baby shower, in a way that said—I don’t know—go easy on them? Tone down your usual brand of crazy, because there are guys here, and they’re being nice enough to put up with us and our frivolity? Several times I had to suppress the impulse to announce that this was my first baby shower, too, so where’s my fucking cookie? One woman kept insisting that the guys hand in their advice cards before they sit down to eat because—again, I can only guess—they’ll forget? Because they can’t chew and write at the same time? Because coming up with a heartfelt message is, for them, tantamount to choking down the pile of broccoli that stands between an 8-year-old and dessert?

The father-to-be sat quietly beside his partner as she opened gifts and gave warm thanks to the givers. When she handed over a present for him to unwrap, he hesitated before taking it with an air of humoring her. But I doubt he acted this way because he didn’t care. I would bet he was simply taking cues from everyone else.

I think we need to expect more from men. Because it’s in them to care about the same things we care about. It’s in them to be excited about the upcoming birth of a child. But they are also products of a culture that tells them their level of involvement should be different.

And when we make comments that foster a notion that caring is a stretch for men, we’re putting a certain pressure on them to maintain some semblance of aloofness. We’re telling them that our expectations are relatively low, and exceeding them would only garner unwanted attention.

I’d like to see a baby shower where the father is more than just physically present. I’d like to see the parents-to-be open gifts together, accept advice together, and thank everyone for their support together. I’d like to see an environment where they both feel comfortable enough to show genuine excitement. When we expect these things instead of reacting to them as though they are total anomalies, we’re contributing to the foundation of our friends’ new life as parents in a very real way. We're giving them the most important piece of advice there is: Do this thing together.

 

Megan Borgert-Spaniol lives in Chicago.



70 Comments / Post A Comment

EmilySchmemily

Hi Megan!
I totally agree. I hosted a co-ed baby shower recently and guys were great and totally into it. I even came up with a game that was well-received by the cutesy-weary men and women. (This will seem like an ad from here out so feel free to cut it, but I decided to produce it. You can find it here: AdorkableBabies.com. Hope you like it. You'll see in the video guys having a great time with all the frivolity that goes along with baby showers!)

vittoriama

I loved this! So funny and so true!@v

cmf406

Baby showers are bad luck and should be abolished. Once there's a baby, sure, bring on the stuff. But all you have to see is one nursery without a baby in it, and you'll never make that mistake again. (Sorry to be Debbie Downer ... ).

stonefruit

@cmf406 In Judaism there is actually a tradition of not having a baby shower before the baby gets here, exactly because of that. But I would imagine it can be hard to turn down the offer when coworkers, etc. are being particularly forceful about it.

Gilgongo

@cmf406 I lost my baby a couple of weeks before my shower, and I disagree. I don't believe in "bad luck."
Getting reminders from Babies R Us about my baby shower registry for months/years afterwards really really sucked, though. And I know it was hard for my mom, who had already bought some (non-returnable) baby stuff.
Still, when I got pregnant a few years after that, I had a shower and was really grateful for all the stuff I got to get me started on my new life with my new baby.
(this time I did not register anywhere, however)

stonefruit

Wait, am I a weirdo that the office baby showers I've gone to have always resolutely involved both the male coworkers and the male partners of the pregnant coworkers?

morecakeplease

@stonefruit Yes, that has been my experience also. I've also worked in offices where baby showers were thrown for male coworkers who were dads-to-be (with the expectant significant other invited, of course!)

yeahsurefine

@morecakeplease Same! I can't imagine an office shower that didn't involve the entire team. Awkward and exclusionary. That being said, I have never been to a co-ed NON-office shower. Mine (non-office) was a women-only tea party/spa day and I loooooved it (and at that pt in my pregnancy, craved it).

brista128

@stonefruit Maybe it depends on the size of your office? My office is like 20 people so everyone is invited but I can imagine that a bigger place might be different.

Titania

@stonefruit I worked at a sexist, horrible British company where only female employees planned and attended office baby showers. The men sort of hovered around outside to hug the mom-to-be and scrounge cake afterwards. Aside from that, the only office showers have been at essentially all-female offices (I work in magazines) so it wasn't really any issue, I never actually thought about it. But I think it would be weird at most companies to exclude employees on that basis.

theballgirl

My husband actually opened all of our sons gifts at our baby shower. I sat next to him and gushed over the teeny socks et al. And I liked seeing the looks of subtle indignation from the older relatives. Cracked me up. This setup was mimicked with most of expectant friends, although outside of the dad-to-be, most guests' bfs/husbands were absent.

Jaya

God I hope this is a situation where all the coworkers are friends because otherwise it'd be so awkward.

I do wish we expected the same things from men though. I've been noticing this being engaged, having everyone always ask me about wedding planning and if I plan to change my name and what our "colors" are, and everyone continuing to ask him about his job and hobbies and life. We're both planning the wedding and we both have jobs and hobbies, so ask us about it equally!

Gilgongo

I was not aware that showers still happened like this! It's 2014... not 1950!
At ours, there were men & women. My husband & I opened the presents together. It was fun!
I went to one a few weeks ago. They insisted on no presents and just a party to celebrate their soon-to-be baby. Men & women were there. We all had a blast!

There was nothing like you describe, above, at either one. I guess it just depends on your group of friends. (I know you can't choose your co-workers)

tjdubya

Yes, men should have to suffer through a baby shower just like women do. I mean, are baby showers really fun for anyone but the mother to be and the host?

adorable-eggplant

@tjdubya I had a really good cake of a type that I'd never tried before at a baby shower, but otherwise agreed.

RNL
RNL

@tjdubya Listen, it's not fun for the host either.

But I'm actually pretty sure the men and women at the last baby shower I threw had a pretty good time. We ate and stuff and read children's books.

TheJacqueline

@tjdubya The last baby shower I was at had a three course meal before she even opened presents. Only women invited.

It was long...

shantasybaby

@tjdubya My friend and I threw a very fun baby shower- it was Michael Jackson themed and absurd. I will say that it was a girl's only affair (as those were the names the baby-haver sent us.) I'm not opposed to guys and girls but I also feel like a guy would be bored at a traditional baby shower (as many women are.) I would not want to surround myself with people who like those stuffy traditional kind of showers but you don't have as much control over who you work with.

harebell

@shantasybaby
But that's exactly the thing… women are totally bored at baby showers too. So why do women have to do it but men don't/shouldn't/aren't supposed to? Particularly when making the guest list women-only makes it even more uncomfortable for a lot of women -- it becomes this thing where you feel like you have to perform your femininity, regardless of how you feel & regardless of how you might actually want to express your support of the mother and new baby?

Rookie (not the magazine) (not that there's anything wrong with that)

@tjdubya To me, it looks like it's fun for women who've had children to welcome another member of the club. Baby showers are basically a way of saying "You're one of us now; here's a pile of adorable baby clothes because having a baby is great and we loved it!" with no mention of any of the painful or exhausting parts of early motherhood because I guess they forget them all?

I don't know, I went to a few bridal showers and baby showers when I was younger and felt pretty out of place, because I had nothing to do with what was being celebrated. So that's what it looks like from where I'm sitting.

(It is a great opportunity to eat tiny egg salad sandwiches, though! Though I don't know how I feel about the symbolism of that.)

RNL
RNL

@tjdubya But (and I know I'm belabouring (heh) a point)that's the thing I think the OP is saying. The club is for parents, right? And men are parents.

shantasybaby

@tjdubya I'm on the same page, I do not like traditional super girly baby showers. But some people do and I think that's okay? Rather, some older people do and eventually we'll grow up to be older and it will be a non-issue. I do think that the assumption that owning a womb makes one more interested in celebrating babies silly because plenty of us womb-owners don't care and some men are actually dads (or not) and would have interest. But I still stand by the fact that you can't control every circle you move in (work, family) and a non-traditional shower might not be appropriate and it's this one bit of gender essentialism that I don't think is worth fighting if it will cause drama. It actually seems like in this story it didn't cause drama so it wasn't really a story at all. My 80 year old great aunt who died shortly after my wedding wanted to throw me a traditional girly bridal shower and I accepted it gratefully.

Dunemi Moore@facebook

The first baby shower I ever attended was in the seventies. It was gramdma's and aunts and sisters and female cousins and some friends of the mama-to-be. The young women, including the mama, sat around dumb-founded while the old ladies gave out some of the funniest, grossest, plain-spoken advice I ever heard. All of us squealed and groaned and learned how to laugh at all of the weird, bodily craziness that was part of childbirth. The old ladies were laying it all out on the line, teaching us lessons, teaching us about life and marriage. All while opening presents and making funny hats.

It was one of the best experiences I ever had, because I realized that these ladies had been through it all, seen it all, and were going to share their wisdom. It was earthy and hilarious and icky and wonderful. And honestly, I can't imagine it happening with a man in the room.

Of course, as I've gotten older, baby showers have turned into modified birthday parties. Everyone is very polite and gives nice presents and there's no earthy old ladies letting the young ones know what they're in for. I miss it.

kasa

@Dunemi Moore@facebook This story reminds me that there is a really good reason that baby showers have traditionally been all female, and that is to talk about the birthing process.

The only baby shower I've been to was super hippy woo woo, and that was a huge part of it. Especially for a first time mother, the prospect of giving birth can be terrifying, and there is something to be said for those female only spaces - there is only so much that men can join in that conversation, though it would be awesome to see a party like that be co-ed.

or Elsa!

This is a great piece, and especially the conclusion. This in particular had me muttering agreement under my breath:

when we make comments that foster a notion that caring is a stretch for men, we’re putting a certain pressure on them to maintain some semblance of aloofness. We’re telling them that our expectations are relatively low, and exceeding them would only garner unwanted attention.

retrogirlie

I don't know about having a baby shower at work unless you're friends with everyone; but MAN would I look forward to the next baby shower if the dudes were included. Actually, same goes for wedding showers too...but then I've always been a girl who hates hanging out with exclusively women for longer than a bathroom break.

yeahsurefine

So funny. I felt a lot of pressure to have a co-ed shower when what I really wanted was a super girly tea party/spa day. At that point in my pregnancy, I was doing a terrible job at self-care, and fortunately my amazing friends decided to throw me this sort of shower as a way to force me to rest and relax. It was awesome. The primary person doing hard labor at a baby shower is the mom-to-be. Shouldn't she get one event that's catered around her and her preferences/needs? Just sayin'.

Lady Humungus

@yeahsurefine I feel the same. I mean, I absolutely agree than men should be expected to participate in all the second-shift work that goes into making a life: housework, cooking, parenting, etc. (and it really bums me out that so many women I know have "partners" who aren't very partner-y on that stuff) But personally I'd much rather just have a ladies brunch type thing for my shower - the co-ed ones I've been to have been SUPER awkward. At a picnic one, all the men stayed outside and drank while the women went inside for present opening. It was like the 8th grade dance all over :P

jennonthego

All the showers for my group of friends that has had babies have been co-ed. In many cases, we were friends with the guy first anyway, so it would be weird for him not to be there. For us, it's become a way for us to actually all see each other at the same time for once. We play Pin-The-Tail-On-The-Baby, eat delicious fried foods and then the parents open the gifts.

I actually haven't been to too many of the ladies only, here's a diaper with a melted chocolate bar in it, kind of showers luckily. I find those bizarre, but that may be because I hate children. I much prefer when it's all my friends together and one of them happens to be pregnant and we eat cupcakes to the "traditional" shower.

At work, I've only had two that I can remember, at two different companies. The first one was a small business, so everyone was invited and the father also came in to open the gifts and have food. It felt like an extension of our Friday all-hands meetings except the Father to Be was there.

The other was at my present job, where we surprised the mother to be with an impromptu gathering. As such her husband hadn't been invited and it was mostly women, but that's just because mostly women work here. But the guys were invited and showed up for the cupcakes. As it should be.

pterodactylish

"“I’m taking his last name because I hate my last name,” stated as though it’s a fresh and free-willed motive, totally uninfluenced by orthodox, for effacing a piece of one’s identity;"

Woah. So it's ok to take our father's names but not our partner's? Next time you want to snidely assume someone is effacing their identity, consider that these ties to our fathers (hi patriarchy!) isn't something everyone wants. I say I hate my last name, but in reality I hate being legally tied to a man that emotionally abused and abandoned me. And adopting the name of someone I choose and love -- versus someone we don't and didn't-- seems a lot more like choice to me. Isn't that what feminism is supposed to be? Choice and freedom?

Don'tcallmeJenny

@pterodactylish Thank you! Came here to make the same comment. I took my husband's name because our daughter also has his name. And she has his name because we both had incredibly difficult last names, but mine was slightly shittier and we sure as shootin' weren't going to saddle here with a hyphenated version of our two monstrosities.

So sick and tired of "feminists" snidely judging CHOICES that women make that don't line up with their narrow world view of "right".

Don'tcallmeJenny

@Don'tcallmeJenny Oh, and also: maybe you need to get some new friends, Megan. I haven't attended a "ladies only" baby shower since I was too young to understand how babies are made. And I could not imagine a single man or woman of my acquaintance behaving like spouses being equal partners in housework and child rearing was some sort of fascinating new experiment.

cuminafterall

@pterodactylish If you got your birth last name from your dad, didn't name come from his dad? So how come it belongs to him more than it belongs to you?

I chose not to change my name for geneaological reasons (there are so many dead ends in my ancestry because I don't know my foremothers' birth surnames!) I don't really care if others do change their names (except when dudes say it's a dealbreaker if their wife doesn't take their name, I find that creepy and awful). But I find the "father's name/husband's name" logic really depressing! Because I'm a woman, my name doesn't really belong to me? That's sad.

Father Brown

@pterodactylish This was a pretty vitriolic comment for such a reasonable article. Weird. 1) She said it was at a work, so the snide "maybe you need to get some new friends" comment was completely unwarranted, 2) you are aware that in the majority of households, the women do more housework, right? Gender roles are pervasive. I'm glad you only know perfectly enlightened people, but them's the facts, buddy, 3) what in the world is with this newfangled idea that feminism means that every choice a woman makes is unassailably right? It's like xojane feminism. No need to think critically about any of our actions!

orchidaceous

So is it just announcing the name change without admitting to being a tool of the patriarchy that is depressing? Not to get all serious, and this may apply to no one else, and that's fine, but in our little interracial family, it feels great that we all have the same name, and that we can grumble together when it gets mispronounced. For me, this feels like the opposite of an effacement of my identity.

Father Brown

@Father Brown God dammit, that was meant for @Don'tcallmeJenny. But same goes for you, basically.

Father Brown

@Don'tcallmeJenny Ughhhh

cordovan sofa

@Father Brown Yes, it's amazing how non-vitriolic you're getting, with your non-vitriolic telling people which punctuation marks they're "allowed" to use (oh dear "scare quotes"). "Father" Brown, your non-vitriolic assumptions about whether people have or haven't read feminist theory (here on this site where we're all feminists reading stuff) and telling us that if we disagree with you it's because we fail at critical thinking makes you a real champion of reasonable behavior. To follow your noble example, I myself am now making assumptions about your age, so at least we're all in this together.

pterodactylish

@Father Brown I don't think my actions should be seen as right without critical analysis. But I do think I should be free to make decisions for myself -- one's that don't affect anyone else -- without being condemned by people under the auspices of feminism.

And for the record, I thought Megan's overall point was thoughtful and insightful. I just really objected to that one point. Frankly, I would like all feminists to stop judging mine and others' decisions for myself in the name of feminism.

cordovan sofa

@Father Brown More constructively, I think you've gotten your feminist theory confused. Neoliberal feminism (the xojane school, as you put it) says that feminist progress is accomplished through individual identity choices, such as not changing your name or taking the right yoga class. Intersectional feminism, which the hairpin in large part champions, says that neoliberal feminism is a fantasy which leaves us stuck in patriarchal bargains, while also defining feminism in a way that presents as the only "feminists" straight wealthy English-speaking white women.

pterodactylish

@cuminafterall oh, I feel like it's all choice! If you like your name, that's awesome! My sister likes her name, despite our shared experience with a shitty dad, and intends to keep it. Honestly, I wish I could just make up a new name. But I don't think that's my man's style, and he has a lovely name, so I think I'll be taking his when name changing times come around.

bureaucrab

@pterodactylish Wow, that was baseless and unwarranted. She wasn't attacking or ignoring you; she was excluding you. Having one thing in common with the people she *is* referencing doesn't include you in the group. She was generalizing to an average to illustrate a point about a different subject. Writers have to be allowed to do that as a tool. As a reader, you can reasonably distinguish yourself from the generalization, it's likely you aren't meant to be covered by it.

In this case, she was generalizing to the thoughtless taking of husbands' names. She never insinuated that all women who do that are thoughtless about it; she insinuated that the same influences are at play for people who *do* automatically buy into both taking husbands' names and not inviting men to baby showers. That's not you, so you're not who she was talking about. It really is that simple.

It's hard not to react emotionally when we read something that is about people kinda similar to ourselves. But I've gained perspective and saved myself some grief by fully thinking through the author's point when I start to feel that reaction. More often than not I realize "This isn't about me!"

cordovan sofa

@bureaucrab You're right; it's inexplicable that quite a few people felt excluded when an essay about a workplace baby shower took an unexpected off-topic side swipe that defined us as deluded tools of oppression. I'm sure that sentence only meant to implicate the DUMB people who add a partner's name, in the same way I can talk about greedy jews and promiscuous gay men and clearly only mean the greedy or promiscous ones. I have no idea why people make this stuff about them! Probably a personal failing we'll grow out of when we become wise. Oh, how we'll laugh.

orchidaceous

@bureaucrab I think the problem is that we still need feminism* to agree on a script to use when confessing to and apologizing for our identity-effacing name choice in casual conversation with the judgey lady at the office. Maybe a very wordy greeting card is in order. It could include a response card. I AM or AM NOT experiencing a gut-nudging wave of defeat over your explanation. If the friend circles AM, you read The Second Sex for the third time and try again.

*said as a proud feminist!

cordovan sofa

@orchidaceous I love this idea. Ideally, the card will include sections of Mary Rowe's 1973 work expanding Chester Pierce's theories of microaggression, and the two women can debate whether the name change was the microassault or the response to the name change was the microassault. (Bonus points to the name-changing woman if she's marrying a woman and lives in a state or country where that marriage receives no legal recognition.)

Then there can be a section on colonialism, questioning whether the name change means the woman has been colonized (bonus to the name changer if she's in a mixed-race marriage and people at the grocery store assume she's not related to her partner or children).

Finally, we can debate whether the desire to claim a name and use it to label things is masculine and ejaculatory, and thus demanding to retain one's name is simply a sign of internalized sexism, wherein one wants to behave like a man rather than like a woman. (Bonus to the name-keeper if she can bring up transphobia and/or the Cyborg Manifesto and/or genderqueerness and gender as a social construct.)

Do we call it "family name" or "surname" or "last name"? Does this change if we are in China at the time?

I suspect we end by declaring that marriage as a whole is archaic and go on our happy way until someone is in the hospital and her partner can't get access to her.

orchidaceous

@cordovan sofa Marry me! . . oh, wait . . .

GenderGendarmerie

@cordovan sofa

What if we... kind of worked together as a team, with an implicit understanding that our intentions were good, and that we will (inevitably) fall short of perfection, but that we're trying to raise ourselves (family/parents/society having not done the most unimpeachable job, falling pretty short of perfection themselves...) and trying to not put others down... because that'd be a pretty silly thing to do, right? How do I benefit if I put you down? Aren't I a greater beneficiary if I help you to be awesome? And if we quibble about what it means to be groovin' can't we settle that fairly effectively by having me focus on (and be responsible for) how I'm feeling/doing... and you do the same? With the understanding that we'll make mistakes.

Yep, we'll make mistakes. But rather than regulate others' behavior, if we make a pretty good case for the choices that we make: won't other people be inclined to follow our example (lead)? Questioning the status quo isn't done out of restlessness. It's done because it occurs to people that there might be (is) a better way.

Obviously, having a conversation devolve into minutia is not (at least, don't sign me up for that group, though if it's what someone loves then okays) the way to go, to stay focussed or not lose the thread (your mind). I'm a meanderer myself, but also aware of the fleeting nature of time in a mortal existence.

But I think it's really a damn fine thing when people can work in concert constructively! Elbows and thumbs are useful (very useful!) but they do sometimes get in the way. This is where politeness is useful, and not a force of suppression. "Agree to disagree" does not mean automatic failure or dodge-the-issue. There *is* so much grey (nuance) of life.

If we separate out into team "changin' my name" and team "oh hells no, not changing my name, don't think women should" (and teams "don't feel very strongly about this either way" and "the woman should always change her name, otherwise how will the man know he's the man") then it would kind of sort itself out organically, I think, without us having to do a lot of "process". It is what it is, and what it is is not the real issue (in this case). The real issue is about respect. And creating choices. Where perhaps they did not exist before.

Evolving, and whatnot.

Would there be defectors from "oh hells no" to "my husband rules his home by virtue of his gender"? Are they the awesome ad for their choices? I'd say, eyes wide open, probably not.I know I'd be worried a LOT more about my children being subverted by "women's libber stuff" than by "let him be the man" stuff if I were raising children. Because I think one idea on it's own merits is more compelling than the other. And thus, one requires more indoctrination than the other.

If indoctrination is a normal human impulse... well, okay. I've long ago come to terms with the fact that there is a huge amount of folly inherent in the human condition, and the default settings are not always "optimum" and should never be adjusted or fiddled with. The impulse is there, but there's better software available that's been created thru human design.

Maybe you're a tool (and you just don't know it/don't want to accept it) and maybe you're not, and maybe someone else is being (a bit of) a tool for saying you're a tool.

But I don't think I'm wrong in saying that the temperature reading from feminists is mostly... "hey, man, as long as you're cool with it and you feel good about who you are as a person, that's what I care about". And, what's more those who strongly feel that this is a bad choice you've made... feel that way for reasons that you feel pretty good about. Ie. this is what it TOTALLY DID USED TO REPRESENT/MEAN and that's not cool. So, if they are lagging a bit (or, you've rushed forward a bit too hastily) with the times... you're basically still mostly on the same page!

OTOH, if people are using their beliefs to bash others (people on the left, people on the right... I'm talking to you!) then: not cool. Beliefs aren't meant to bash (or shouldn't be -- not the good ones), they're meant to uplift. But again, people err in their ways. But that's an idea ("let me bash others with my idea/philosophy!"), or choice, that can stand on it's own. To be judged on it's own merits (or flaws). But it's best that we not be too nitpicky, while also keeping ahold of our values.

Because, if we point out EVERY flaw... well, we'll be here all day (year/eternity/a looooong time). But, but the same token, if we were to point out every amazing part of our existence/selves... well, that could take some considerable time to consider too - a lifetime! ;)

I think it's very important to be a bit balanced. Weigh the flaws with the awesomeness, but always give a little extra weight to the awesomeness (we're not, after all, impartial judges).

tldr; If people are giving you some flak, take a mo to see where they're coming from. If it's a crappy place, disregard. If it's a thoughtless place, feel free to bring some mindfulness into the moment (I'm sorry, I devolved into hippie-speak here), and if it's just a bit of a sore point on all sides... just process your own feelings of self-worth and you'll probably be right as rain. If, along the way, you can help your peeps, too; all the better! (i.e.. speakin' up for the ladies who are changing their names but are rockin' hard on many fronts and should not be belittled or made to feel lesser.)

cordovan sofa

@GenderGendarmerie Right on, particularly your point about time lags (people reacting to old meanings, which still have force). I listened to a talk by Beau Stubblefield-Tave in the context of Black History Month, and he said the reason he thinks it's important to teach black history is not to affirm the importance of black people to history, but to show those of us still engaged in the struggle for civil rights how far we've come in a relatively short time, especially those of us who are too young to have segregation in our living memory. It's very easy to see how far we have left to go and become cynical, but if you take that step back, there's a lot of room for optimism. It gives you hope. The fight for equality is never going to be over, because it's too easy to backslide, but if you look even at something as big as world poverty, it's extraordinary how far we can move in a decade.

Edabelle

Thank you for this, Megan! It was for all these reasons that I insisted on a co-ed baby shower, and it couldn't have been more excellent. I even had a co-ed bachelorette party.

Also, I don't understand the defensiveness among some commenters about name-changing. Why do you need validation for having made the completely mainstream, socially acceptable choice to take your husband's name?

Don'tcallmeJenny

@Edabelle I don't feel I need validation; but I do feel attacked by "feminists" who question my choices and imply (in pieces like this one) that my choice makes me less part of the "cause" or the "movement" or whatever. Coming from an extremely liberal area with a lot of professional women and graduating from an extremely liberal college and grad school I have had my share of negative comments about my decision to share a name with my husband and daughter (and lots of assumptions about *why* I made the decision I did).

And yes, the scare quotes are around feminist because women that make judgey little throwaway remarks about other women seem to me to be worse at this whole "sisterhood" thing than those of us who choose to go along with mainstream, socially acceptable (and obviously problematic in an historical context) life choices.

cordovan sofa

@Don'tcallmeJenny Speaking for myself, I'd be happily adding more names to the end of mine pretty much bi-weekly if it weren't expensive; marriage is the one time I got to do it for free. Otherwise, I mostly have to content myself with internet psuedonyms (I am not in fact a cordovan sofa, you may be surprised to discover) and make up self-appointed "official" titles. None of which, alas, get to appear on my driver's license.

Father Brown

@Don'tcallmeJenny Oh my god you commented about this multiple times! You're very attached to your jejune little idea that feminism means you can do no wrong. Read some feminist theory, for god's sake. Seriously, you're not allowed to put scarequotes around feminist until you learn what one is.
And on that note, stop abusing scarequotes.

Don'tcallmeJenny

@Father Brown: I'm sorry, but you don't seem to know that much about feminism. And, guess what, I can actually use scare quotes when I deem them necessary, not when some rando on the internets says it's OK.

Also, when in the actual fuck did I say "feminism" = can do no wrong? I said that women who judge other women's *choices* under the guise of feminism when those choices are personal and private are in fact wrong. Honestly, I find receiving a barrage of articles about how changing my name makes me a bad feminist and woman almost as damaging and hurtful as the ones I receive about how my abortion makes me a terrible mother.

aardvark

"When she handed over a present for him to unwrap, he hesitated before taking it with an air of humoring her. But I doubt he acted this way because he didn’t care. I would bet he was simply taking cues from everyone else."

I do wonder if, in this case, the spouse in question wasn't hesitant to open gifts because he was in an unfamiliar environment rather than because of his gender? He might have felt like the gifts were intended to come from the people who know his partner, for his partner, and that he was somehow interfering in that show of support?

(Gender neutral baby showers are great! I don't mean to impugn the rest of the article!)

Bess

This is tangential, but it's the second article I have seen in a short while that treats taking your husband's last name as the ultimate surrender of feminist values. I disagree.

Unless you have a compound surname, or made one up yourself, the name you were born with isn't any less patriarchal than the one you might take when you marry. My father's name is not my identity. It only matters at all because it ties me to a fraction of my family (excluding all maternal lines) and I have had it for longer. And depending how life shakes out I might be married longer than single.

Women who want to keep their names should. Women who want to change their names should. I don't think it should be a marker of feminist integrity.

cordovan sofa

@Bess Yep. This made me angry too. Why would an identity someone chose automatically be inferior to the one bestowed on them at birth? I've been married twice and one time I kept my name and the other time I changed my name, and I was not un-feminist either time. Similarly some feminists have kids and some don't, and some wear makeup and some don't, and some get plastic surgery and some don't. Being a feminist is not some competition that you win by wearing the least makeup. Makeup and my last name are not what's oppressing me.

harebell

@Bess
Well, no. It's not necessarily "patriarchal" to hold onto your birth name. Changing your name has a lot of profound practical implications, ranging from relatively benign like changing your Social Security Card to very difficult, like trying to establish a new professional reputation under a totally new name (especially if you do something like publish under your name). Why change your name in the middle of your life? That's the point.

Most children have their father's last name given to them at birth, but it's certainly not universal; some have their mother's surname. I know a number of people with their mothers' surnames. Keeping your own name is the point, not changing it midstream -- and since 50% of marriages end in divorce, imagine how great it is for friends and for your career when you change it more than once.

Finally, my father got his surname from his father; it's not "his" anymore than it is the property of other members of our family, including me -- as @cuminafterall said up above. The idea that it's not legitimately mine but still "belongs" to him -- is really sad. I mean, if you don't like your surname of your father, change it at any point, including well before you get married, but connecting it to marriage is just unnecessary and links you back to a very bad old tradition where women were "covered" by their husbands and not considered independent legal persons post marriage (and had fewer rights than widows or even spinsters).

GenderGendarmerie

@all

It's complicated! This one's a riddle! The contextualization is what's important here... So... switch it up? Go with the female family name for a bit? That's my best guess, a buncha cool dudes get on board with changing their names, because... well it's a pretty decent symbolic gesture to make.

And, um.... WOULD THEY BE LOSING/SUBSUMING THEIR IDENTITY and becoming "ladies" (ie. pussies)????

(short answer: no. just as taking on another's name does not, actually, change who you are. Even if you wanted it to. Nope, still the same person... your identity: still defined in concert with you/those around you/society. But if society (or other people) say you are something, does that make you that thing? How others view us is very important and relevant, but far more important is how we view ourselves. It's a two way street, but how you feel about yourself is more important than how others feel about you ateotd.)

It's not a permanent answer, but it would change the contextualization, and help to "de-charge" the issue. Because, the -main- issue is: if a guy changes his last name to his lady's... does that mean he's less of a person? less himself? Less of a MAN??? Yeah, you could throw in the genealogy issues, but they are not the most acute, overall. The bigger (thus main) overarching issue is the "little woman" issue, or helpmeet issue. Whose wearing the pants?! (answer: we all are; unless we prefer shorts, or kilts/mumu/toga or some other, more drapey form of attire.)

But, I'd like to go on record as saying: I demand (and expect) perfection from myself and all those around me. Any faltering short of that (any faltering or "feeling out" of any kind) will immediately be met with disapproval, possible disavowal, and definitely (harsh) disappointment.

Please be advised: this goes double for all conversations about feminism (air/scare quotes or not).

If your position is not 1M% thought out and error tested for validity... with a written proof available upon request, then: You have been warned.

cordovan sofa

@GenderGendarmerie I have known several men who changed their name to their wife's or husband's. It surprises me it's not more common. I have also known couples who combined surnames or embraced a name new to both of them, or picked the name of whoever had the least siblings, or flipped a coin.

However, that leaves us in the same place we started, which is: it's up to the people in the marriage what name or names they use. I do not live in a monoculture and names mean different things to different individuals. In my case, for instance, I work in two different fields and it's useful to me to use my married name in some places and my birth name in other places (both unusual) so I don't have a google problem - and there's an advantage over a pen name in that both names are legally tied to me and I can deposit checks made out to either person.

Even if you believe unshakably that a woman changing her name is a way of caving to external pressure, whether she knows it or not, you have to acknowledge that she made a patriarchal bargain: rather than it being the case that all choices are right, any choice will work against her and she has to calculate which one hurts her the least.

Say I'm raised in a culture that has a fear of aging (imagine that!) and I have to decide whether to dye my hair when it starts turning gray. Do I take a stand and keep it natural, and miss out on promotions because my supervisors think I'm about to retire? Do I dye it brown and reinforce the same standard that says I'm inferior? Do I cleverly dye it neon green to draw attention to the problem and have people misinterpret my statement to mean I'm clinging to youth?

And what if I've internalized the fear of aging, since I've been surrounded by it my whole life, and since it's an actual danger to my wellbeing? Is it better that I look in the mirror and think I'm ugly, or that I look in the mirror and think I'm a cheater who has betrayed myself?

Which one do you think does the best job of sticking it to the man?

We cannot erase millenia of overlapping oppressions in a single generation, nor is the change going to come from cosmetic repairs. We can't poof away the structural problems by finding the right magic word, nice as it would be to call a name of power into the wind and see the world shift.

idrathernot

I'm shocked to see any detractors, I thought this hit the nail on the head. “I’m taking his last name because I hate my last name,” stated as though it’s a fresh and free-willed motive, totally uninfluenced by orthodox, for effacing a piece of one’s identity;"

& this:
“Boys are just easier than girls,” coming authoritatively from a mother of boys, or any mother for that matter."

I loved your take on the tying of female-only baby showers into larger matters of sexism.

Rookie (not the magazine) (not that there's anything wrong with that)

@idrathernot I really want to find out more about these boys that are easier than girls. Is this the middle ages or something, and people are worried about dowries?

coolallison

@Rookie (not the magazine) (not that there's anything wrong with that) People always say this whenever I say something like "if I ever have a kid, I hope she's a girl." I grew up with a sister. It's what I'm more familiar with. But it seems that every. single. time. that I say I'd want a girl, someone says "but boys are easier!" Okay. I still would rather have a girl. (If any at all, which honestly... not sure I'll ever get to that point. But whatever.)

Rookie (not the magazine) (not that there's anything wrong with that)

@idrathernot Same.
I mean, I guess if you think about what it's like to be a woman, and male privilege and all that, then yes, it would be great to have a boy because there would be certain things he won't have to worry about as much as a girl would. But otherwise? No. I hypothetically would rather have a girl. (I know this because I burst out laughing when I found out one of my neighbours was expecting her third son.)

snowmentality

Baby showers are the most gender-stereotyped things ever. It makes me really uncomfortable and angry. It's all "Girls just come preprogrammed to love princesses!" and "Why would you get a GIRL something with TRUCKS on it?" and "He was going to get a diaper bag too, but then I realized it would look SO WEIRD if we were out with the baby and he had a diaper bag and I didn't!" and then my head explodes. And these people are all late 20s, early 30s, and I thought they were reasonable, non-sexist people. Ugh.

After one baby shower, my husband and I agreed that should I get pregnant, we will refuse to tell anyone the sex of the child until it's born, because the stereotyping will just infuriate us both.

harebell

@snowmentality

that's a great idea! it's worked well for other people i know, to just not tell others the gender (and you can even pretend you didn't find out, if you don't want to be confrontational with people who demand to know).

The gender police are so tiresome! I've especially never understood the diaper bag business -- all my boyfriends before, up to, and including my husband, have all been so much better at packing shit they need to take around with them than I have, and they have always tended to take care of me rather than the reverse -- you know, making sandwiches or snacks, remembering to pack a blanket for when we sit on the grass, that sort of thing. Being attuned to that sort of thing definitely does not go automatically along with gender! I never expected but always valued that in them. It would be a nightmare to suddenly be expected to be "that part" of the couple all of a sudden. Keeping your baby alive and happy is enough of a challenge without worrying about who's carrying the diaper bag (and if there is time to worry about all that, then maybe babies are easier than people make them out to be).

Rookie (not the magazine) (not that there's anything wrong with that)

@snowmentality one problem with that - SO MUCH crap that is marketed for babies is gendered. It's nearly impossible to find a lot of really nice, gender neutral stuff for babies, which is why so many gifts after the baby is born end up being heavily gendered ("You have a girl! Here's everything pink that has ever existed.") I kind of wish that the baby industry was less like that, so that I could buy something that COULD in a way be gendered, but isn't so aggressively cotton-candy pink or navy and grey that gender enforcers would wonder why a child isn't wearing clothes for their gender. (Example: I want my girl cousin to like sports and dinosaurs and cars just as much as her brother does! But seriously, almost everything is navy and grey. Maybe because no one can name any female all-star athletes. So we're just crushing little girls' dreams from the get-go.)

Dirty Hands

I'm really glad that this was written and posted right where I'd read it! Because though I try to think of things in feminist ways generally, I'd never reconsidered the baby shower, only been mildly annoyed at the thought of being pregnant, tired, surrounded by people with their attention on me to an uncomfortable extent, giving me potentially gender-stereotyped gifts... this all sounds much better and easier.

josh f.

I am a (hopefully) father to be. I found this statement markedly offensive:

'I think we need to expect more from men. Because it’s in them to care about the same things we care about. It’s in them to be excited about the upcoming birth of a child.'

Of course men are capable of being excited about the birth of a child. But 'expecting more from men' is sexist. Try 'asking' and 'listening' instead. I'm so glad I'm not married to you.

squishycat

While I totally agree that the father should be just as involved in the celebrations (and the parenting) as the mother, and the only baby-shower-type event I've ever been invited to (could not attend, sadly) was called a "baby-on-board" party and involved the father, and had a mixed-gender invitee group, the fact remains that during the pregnancy, the mom is, you know, literally carrying a weird squirming kicking thing INSIDE HER for 40 weeks, then has to give birth, then possibly breastfeed. I think she deserves a little extra recognition during this part of the parenthood process, if only because biology has given her the short end of the stick.

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